Sun | Sep 23, 2018

In round two, CAPRI recommends deposit refund system for plastics

Published:Friday | July 27, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Reminiscent of the monetary incentives drinks companies shelled out for the return of glass bottles, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, CAPRI, this week proposed a deposit refund system for plastics.

However, as indicated from Wednesday's forum staged in Kingston by the think tank, the groups involved in Jamaica's current fight to alleviate plastic waste were conflicted over who should take the lead on the initiative private sector or government.

The refund system is CAPRI's second recommendation on how to effectively incentivise behavioural change. Its first laid at a another forum last year titled 'Choking on Plastics', was for plastics to be taxed to dissuade their usage.

This week, with a focus on PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, bottles, lead researcher and director for sustainability at CAPRI, Dr Suzanne Shaw, proposed a recoverable cess on plastic bottles - within a deposit refund system - which promises a recovery rate of 60 per cent in 10 years.

PET bottles are extruded or moulded for packaging foods and beverages, among other consumer products. The cost to produce PET has declined over the years as the price of oil fell, and uses of the bottles have increased exponentially.

Rohan Brown, manager of Jamaica Recycles, a panellist at the forum, said that four years ago when the price of oil was at its highest, recycling demand led to exports of seven million bottles annually from Jamaica. This has since fallen to one million bottles.

"Companies overseas say it's less hassle to use oil than to recycle," he said.

He and another panellist, Francois Chalifour, the marketing and development director at plastics manufacturer Wisynco Group Limited, who manages Wisynco's recycling programme, estimated annual output of plastic bottles in Jamaica at 650 million.

Edison Carr, the planning manager at state-run National Solid Waste Management Authority, NWSMA, another panellist at Wednesday's forum, said plastics account for 17 per cent of solid waste and PETs three per cent, with the latter being largely responsible for fires on the Riverton City dump in Kingston.

He said waste collected had increased from 672,000 tonnes in 2014 to 872,000 tonnes in 2017. Savings from PET reductions, he said, could be channelled into more efficient solid waste management systems.

Citing the deposit return system adopted in Germany which has achieved a 90 per cent recycling rate, Shaw said Jamaica could achieve $2 billion in annual savings by year 2040.

CAPRI's proposed deposit return system for PETs, as outlined by Shaw, would involve beverage importers and manufacturers paying a fee in tandem with the numbers of bottles introduced to the market. This information would be passed on to supermarkets/retailers, who in turn would incorporate the fee into the price of the product as a deposit.

When consumers return bottles to the point of sale, they would chain their deposit from the retailer. The retailer collects the bottles and makes a declaration to the central administrator for the deposit return system, and is refunded for deposits to the consumer.

Collection models

Shaw said CAPRI examined two different collection models: one to have plastics returned to a few large depots; and the other to have retailers such as supermarkets act as redeemers. The retail model worked better, she said, because it was able to pay for itself and was more convenient for consumers who may not be inclined to travel distances to central depots. "Convenience is a must," she added.

The CAPRI researcher recommended that transport for taking plastics from retail points to the depots be outsourced, as this was less expensive than the administrator of the system funding transport.

The think tank also proposed a gradual increase in the deposit rate on plastic bottles over time. Shaw said CAPRI's survey in Jamaica showed that at $1 per bottle, only 11 per cent were willing to return the bottles, but at $5 up to 85 per cent were willing to make the returns for the deposit.

Under CAPRI's model, Jamaica's deposit return scheme would be designed to achieve a 25 per cent recycling rate in three years and 85 per cent in 15 years, starting with the $1 deposit rate in the first year of implementation and gradually increasing to $5 per bottle by the 15th year of the programme.

The researcher recommended a private-sector-led system, as she said that reviews of state-led programmes indicated higher costs and low recovery rates.

However, Carr of NWSMA said that from a policy standpoint, the State should take the lead. He was supported by Brown of Jamaica Recycles, who said government should take the lead and that a depot system, such as that currently run by his company, should be followed. Jamaica Recycles is an initiative of private-sector interests and the Government.

Chalifour of Wisynco batted for the private sector to lead the deposit return initiative, saying "we agree with the industry-led approach", while also noting that the most important consideration is for the programme to be routinely audited, whoever ends up leading it.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com